The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

Who Can I Sleep With?

If co-sleeping is dangerous - who's a safe sleeping partner?


Love, Strangulation and Suffocation

When you see public health advertisements placing a meat cleaver next to a sleeping infant, it's clear co-sleeping is no longer a simple matter. Utah's Appeals Court just upheld a ruling that co-sleeping parents can be charged with child abuse homicide—after two of their children died in their bed. Milwaukee's Health Department is convinced their meat cleaver ads will save many infants from strangulation and suffocation.
But who can you safely and effectively sleep with? Your pets? Your spouse or partner? Is it really better to sleep alone?
On many of these issues the data are sparse and the answers complex. Here is a simple set of pros and cons you can use to make your own decisions.


Sleeping with Infants

 

Pros

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Love
Bonding
Ease of breast feeding
Setting circadian rhythms together for the whole family
Economy
Some data that sleep comes easier to parents and infant, and infants sleep longer

 

Cons

Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends not sleeping with infants for up to two years due to increased strangulation and smothering, with 75 percent of deaths occurring in the first three months; other studies highlight increased death rates in the first few months after birth
Some evidence that SIDS increases with co-sleeping
Worse mortality if parents are smokers, greater risk with drinking and pill taking

 

Correctives

Put infants on their backs to prevent SIDS; keep their heads uncovered
Don't cosleep if you smoke or drink
Set up the bed environment so that you make it impossible that the infant can get caught in the bedframe, mattress, or extraneous cords outside the bed; keep out soft items like pillows that can smother infants.


Animals

The ("http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/12/get-from-pet/" target="_hplink") majority of US dog and cat owners at least occasionally sleep with their pets. Many single women routinely sleep with their animals. Lots can't imagine anything wrong with the arrangement.

 

Pros

Love
Bonding
Warmth—especially on cold winter nights
Resynching—to a degree—pets' circadian rhythm with that of owners
Some evidence of lower blood pressure

 

Cons

Zoonoses—infections brought by animals to humans, which include intestinal parasites, toxoplasmosis, even plague—a real problem for pregnant or potentially pregnant women and anyone with immune difficulties
Frequent waking—animals don't have the same circadian rhythms of humans, and don't go to the bathroom on the same schedule; cats in particular do not respond to voiced directives

 

Correctives

Keep your animals really clean with frequent washings
Vet visits to rid animals of parasites
Think twice before you let your dog lick your face


Spouse, Partner, or Loved One

Pros

Love
Bonding
Intimacyand intimate conversations
Sex
Reset of circadian rhythms—to a point

 

Cons

Snoring—a leading cause of marital discord and surprisingly common
Infections
Allergies
Frequent movement causing awakenings—many people kick their legs, and people often move when getting into different sleep stages, which they can do dozens of times a night
Evidence that people (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/do-you-sleep-with-your-spouse/" target="_hplink) sleep better apart than alone—generally because of what's noted above
Sexual activity with your partner may include contact with microorganisms derived from previous partners


Correctives

Snoring can be the harbinger of sleep apnea, which is generally treatable—by weight loss, CPAP machines, or dental devices
Earplugs and white noise machines
Frequent washing


Social Connection


Two points should be made: First, that co-sleeping is probably as old as humanity, and is culturally, socially, and psychologically prized. Plus social support is a large factor in keeping people healthy and alive, as research has shown repeatedly since Berkman and Syme's famous 1979 study demonstrating its remarkable health benefits.
Second, lots is still not known about co-sleeping. Research on sleep with animals certainly seems appropriate, as data is meager and the practice extremely widespread.
What does make sense is for families to discuss the matter—candidly and ones hopes, with humor. How you spend a third of your life is significant in many ways—for pleasure, health and survival.

Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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